5 ways to address negative body image during COVID-19 | Health & Wellness Services

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For many of us, this past year has been full of stress, uncertainty and rapid changes that make it hard to adapt. These factors can affect the relationships we have with food, our bodies, physical activity and the way we see ourselves. One way to combat negative self-talk and negative […]

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For many of us, this past year has been full of stress, uncertainty and rapid changes that make it hard to adapt. These factors can affect the relationships we have with food, our bodies, physical activity and the way we see ourselves. One way to combat negative self-talk and negative body-image is to practice body acceptance.

Body acceptance is about more than just accepting how our bodies look at this moment in time. It’s also about accepting that our bodies are meant to change. Our bodies are meant to age, change shape and change size. It’s also important to remember that it’s okay and normal for our eating habits, activity levels and body weight to change over time and in response to stress. 

Showing our bodies appreciation for everything they’ve gotten us through can help us cultivate a more positive relationship with ourselves. Here are 5 ways you can honor your body and show yourself a little appreciation.


Honor your biological cues

Our bodies communicate with us through sensations. It’s important to listen to these sensations in order to honor our biological cues like hunger, fullness, energy, mood, etc. For instance, if your stomach is gnawing at you, it may be time to sit down for a satisfying meal. Similarly, if your body is feeling tired or groggy, it may be time to rest, even if it means missing out on a workout.

If you’re not sure how to identify your body’s cues, that’s okay. Many of us may be out of practice listening to our bodies, especially if we’ve been experiencing higher levels of stress or anxiety. Practicing mindfulness can help. Health Promotion offers Mindful Mondays each week. This mindfulness program allows you to enjoy guided mindfulness exercises and learn about additional resources on campus. You can also join Feel Good Fridays for a weekly meditation series that promotes mindfulness and stress management.


Evaluate your relationship with movement

Participating in regular movement (i.e. physical activity or exercise) has proven benefits for both our minds and bodies. It can be a great outlet to reduce stress, improve our health and find community. However, exercise can also have a dark side. In some cases, we may use exercise as a way to exert control over our bodies, alter our appearance or use it to determine what we are allowed to eat. Here are a few ways to evaluate your own relationship with movement and exercise:

Intuitive relationship with movement:

Your routine…

  • Helps you feel connected with your body
  • Makes you feel stronger, more flexible or have greater endurance
  • Allows for rest and sick days
  • Helps you relieve stress and is enjoyable
  • Can move down on your priority list
  • Is responsive to your needs
  • Includes different types of movement
  • Is respectful of your body’s limits

Potentially harmful relationship with movement:

Your routine…

  • Is all or nothing
  • Allows for very few or no rest days
  • Must meet certain requirements to “count”
  • Doesn’t include breaks or time off for sick days or injuries
  • Feels like something you have to or are expected to do
  • Takes priority over other things in life (relationships, rest, socializing, etc.)
  • Causes you to feel upset or anxious if you miss a workout
  • Determines what you are allowed to eat based on activity level or calories burned

Shifting our focus and energy to activities that make us feel good, relieve stress and allow us to create a deeper connection with our body can help in cultivating a positive relationship with physical activity. It’s also important to remember that all forms of movement count toward your physical activity. Going for walks, practicing yoga and other low-impact activities share many of the same benefits as intense exercise. 


Be your own ally

If you find yourself critiquing your body in front of the mirror, positing positive affirmations or showing your body gratitude can help. Grab a notepad or sticky notes and write down positive aspects of yourself. Include things that aren’t related to your appearance or weight. You can also focus on the functionality of your body over its appearance. Then, put them on or around your mirror. As you start to recognize more positive things about yourself, add them to your affirmations. Practice saying them out loud each day when you look at yourself in the mirror. 

Here are just a few examples:

  • I trust and listen to my body.
  • I am grateful that my body has gotten me through tough times.
  • I am smart, strong, capable, etc.
  • My body gives me strength.
  • My body keeps me safe.
  • I take care of my body.


Be intentional about who you follow

Who do you follow on social? Whether you keep up with close friends and family or celebrities and meme accounts, it’s important to know who you’re following and how they may be affecting you. Take a look at your accounts and ask yourself:

  • Am I seeing posts that make me feel unhappy or put me in a bad mood?
  • Am I comparing my life, body or success with others?
  • Do these accounts make me feel like I need to change myself or “be better”?

Pay attention to how the images, videos, slogans and attitudes you see on social media are impacting how you feel about yourself and your body. If you answered yes to any of these questions, it may be time to hide them from your feed or hit unfollow. Removing this type of content from your view can help you feel a sense of relief and will free up space for accounts that make you feel good. Instead of spending time feeling down, focus your energy on creating a feed that empowers you and makes you feel good about yourself!


Reach out for support

If you or someone you know is struggling with negative body image, here are a few resources that can help.

  • Reach out to friends and family: Feeling good about yourself and your body is easier when the people around you are supportive and recognize the importance of positive self image. Make time for friends and family who make you feel supported and good about yourself.
     
  • Healthy Living Workshop: Counseling and Psychiatric Services offers a free Healthy Living Workshop each week. Topics vary from week to week and include, body image, nutrition, physical activity, sleep, stress management and self-care.
     
  • Counseling and Psychiatric Services: Counseling and Psychiatric Services (CAPS) provides free and confidential consultations online through e-Let’s Talk. Let’s Talk counselors can help provide insight, solutions and information about additional resources available.
     
  • Disordered eating/eating disorders: Disordered eating and eating disorders are complex issues that can impact all genders, ages, races, ethnicities and sexual orientations. Health and Wellness Services offers support for students who are experiencing disordered eating or eating disorders through partnerships with Nutrition Services, Medical Services and CAPS. They can also provide community referrals for individuals who are interested in additional recovery and support services.
     
  • Rec Center: Join Fitness and Wellness at the Rec Center for free events and activities throughout the month of February as part of their Body Image Awareness series!

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